This article first appeared in The Rabbit Room.
I remember the first time I read The Princess Bride. I was a senior in high school and my sister was home from college for Christmas break, brandishing a thick paperback with the familiar title. Of course, I had seen the movie a handful of times and I always assumed there was a book to go along, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
“I’m going to read it to you,” Connie insisted, but the tables quickly turned.
She came down with a case of pneumonia and I ended up reading the whole book to her instead. Fifteen years have passed since then and I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve read it together. It is, hands down, our favourite novel. Besides the witty narration and fun characters, what draws us most to this epic tale is its impossible challenges. As Connie and I deal with our own struggles in life, we are encouraged time and time again to see Buttercup survive the snow sand, Fezzik strangle the Arabian Garstini (snake) and Westley come back from the dead. Sure, it’s fiction, but it reminds us that “impossible” is a silly word and you only say you’ll not survive the Fire Swamp because no one ever has (but that doesn’t mean you won’t).
My sister and I share a love for reading, but we also share a disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. This essentially jumbles the message that runs from our brains to our spinal cords, causing our muscles to not work well and atrophy over time. We have used power wheelchairs for most of our lives, learned our way around a few hospitals over the years and depended on others to take care of our personal needs for as long as we can remember. So it may come as no surprise that we like stories in which impossible challenges are overcome.
It may also come as no surprise that we always have a good laugh at the absurd-yet-relatable antics of the gang as a rag doll Westley slowly comes back to life. “My brains, your strength and his steel against a hundred troops? And you think a little head-jiggle is supposed to make me happy?” There is something silly and yet profound about watching Westley, Fezzik and Inigo storm the castle gates by working together and getting creative with their unique skills. But it didn’t start here. This wasn’t the first disabled man Inigo had encountered, nor the first time he’d had to think outside the box in such a scenario.
There’s a minor character, tucked deep into a page that touches briefly on Inigo’s past. As he prepares to battle a hoard of king bats, the Spaniard recalls his time spent one summer with the crippled MacPherson, “the only Scot who ever understood swords.” MacPherson openly mocked Inigo’s formal training, showing how it was fine for a fancy sport but useless on a mountainside, or if your opponent threw acid in your eyes. Goldman explains, simply, “his legs stopped at the knee, and so he had a special feel for adversity.” He forced Inigo to break the mold of what was deemed proper strategy, and this affected the way Inigo lived his life, how he saw challenges and took on the world, all the way to the gates of Florin. So when even the problem-solving Westley, who days earlier wrestled an R.O.U.S., looks at their situation on the wall and announces, “It’s impossible,” Inigo steps in to say otherwise. He admits that he doesn’t know how it’s possible, but he knows it is and assures Westley they’ll figure it out—and they do!
There’s a lot to be said here about disabilities but I think the takeaway of MacPherson, Inigo and the gang runs deeper. It’s a message we can all relate to because, at the end of the day, everyone faces impossible challenges, and the question is, what will we do with them? MacPherson had nothing below the knees, but his life didn’t stop there. He took on whatever obstacles stood in his way, from dressing himself in the morning to mastering swordplay on the side of a mountain. And because of his will to persist, his path crossed with Inigo’s for the learning Spaniard to grow in his skills. Inigo was always a caring and resolute achiever, but their time together honed this in tandem with innovation, so that by the time he sat on a castle wall with Westley’s limp-necked head flopped against his shoulder, there was nothing weird or impossible to him about the situation.
I look at my own life and have to remember two reasons why I push through my own impossible challenges. First, God has given me life, to live to the fullest as best I can. It’s a gift to unwrap and enjoy, so I’m going to do just that! And it may not always be easy, but it is always worth it.
Secondly, as a Christian, I am called to love others and pour into their lives. As I overcome (or even simply deal with) my own struggles, I invite others to learn and grow with me—and who knows what castle wall that will land them on in the future? My hope is that, as folks’ paths cross mine, they are enriched because of the impossible challenges I’ve faced and handled well. After all, “impossible” is a silly word, isn’t it?